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January 08, 2003 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2003-01-08

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January 8, 2003

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Joe Strummer, 1952-2002

Courtesy of Miramax

Daniel Day-Lewis plays with knives and Cameron Diaz, leading to fireworks.

By Todd Weiser
Daily Film Editor
Arguably the greatest living American filmmaker,
Martin Scorsese makes a big, bloody return to the
forefront of the film world with his part epic, part
history lesson, "Gangs of New York." Since 1995's
"Casino," Scorsese has shied away from the lime-
light, opting instead for smaller and more personal
fare like his documentary on Italian cinema, "Mio
viaggio in Italia." His Dalai Lama bio "Kundun" and
surreal Nicolas Cage paramedic adventure "Bringing
Out the Dead," while two of Scors-
ese's best departures and both visually
stunning in their own very different
ways, never received wide attention,*
especially for a director so commonly
hailed and in the spotlight. GAN
Scorsese recruits a pair of actors NEW
also recently missing-in-action,
Leonardo DiCaprio and Daniel Day- At Showca
Lewis. Together, with an almost 16 and N
unlimited Miramax budget of the Mir
likes Scorsese has never before seen,
they brilliantly, and violently, bring to life an upset-
ting period of New York - and American - history
centered on a story of a young man's vengeance in
the name of his father.
The father, Priest Vallon (Liam Neeson), immedi-
ately sets the gory example for his young son when
he leads his Dead Rabbits gang of Irish immigrants
against the so-called Natives who run the Lower-
Manhattan area of the Five Points. Set against the
wintry white snow covering the neighborhood's cen-
tral Paradise Square, the xenophobic battle unleashes

spectacularly realistic choreographed fighting
while the combatants' red blood seeps into the
land they fight over. Young Amsterdam Vallon
watches on from a front-row seat as the old-fash-
ioned brawl comes to a sudden end thanks to the
knives of William Cutting, also known as Bill the
Butcher, when they enter the sides of Amsterdam's
valiant father.
Daniel Day-Lewis emerges from his semi-retire-
ment to assume Bill's butcher apron and the wonder-
ful slang-ridden dramatics that come out of his
mouth. We can only thank Robert DeNiro for turning

ase, Quality

down the role; Day-Lewis is the great-
est actor of his generation and this, is
his ultimate scene-stealing role. Bal-
ancing scenes of Vaudevillian over-the-
top showmanship with tender moments
of father-son advice, Day-Lewis makes
the menacing figure an intriguing cross
of desperate humanity and image con-
scious cartoon. With a script credited to
three Oscar nominated writers, some-
how Bill seems to be given all the best
dialogue, and its to the delight and hor-

takes the boy in.
DiCaprio's part is not awarded the spectacle of
performace so generously devoted to Day-Lewis,
instead asked to quietly go about his business of res-
urrecting the name of the Dead Rabbits while hold-
ing a slight Irish accent. In a performance not so
allowably entertaining as his portrayal of Frank
Abagnale ("Catch Me If You Can"), DiCaprio still
holds his own amongst a series of great actors, silent-
ly brooding over his father's loss while avoiding pos-
sible complications like friends (Henry Thomas) and
lovers (Cameron Diaz).
Diaz delivers another steady performance as the
pickpocket Jenny, but never overcomes a role that,
feels like another love-interest throwaway. Indebted
to Bill but in love with Amsterdam, Jenny barely cre-
ates a persona of her own. The remaining supporting
cast excels in roles too often shortchanged in screen-
time: Jim Broadbent enthusiastically rants and lies as
the corrupt Tammany Hall politician "Boss" Tweed
while John C. Reilly appears way too briefly as loyal
Dead Rabbit turned Native-helping cop Happy Jack.
Set during the onset of the Civil War, Scorsese's
real intention with "Gangs" is to show the construc-
tion of the modern day New York thanks to the hot
blooded, riotous tempers of the Lincoln-hating 19th
century lower class. Saving his trump card for the
third act, the seemingly straight man vs. man story
brilliantly erupts in its final 20 minutes.
A history lesson sinceringly well-taught from the
most outspoken lover of New York City, the terrible
memories of the Civil War draft riots will now forev-
er be tied to one of the most memorable characters in
recent cinema. Keyser Soze meet Bill the Butcher,
another unforgettable character.

"Are ya taking over?
Or are ya' taking orders?
Are ya'going forwards?
Or ya' going backwards?"
- "White Riot"
John Graham Mellor, better known
as Joe Strummer, outspoken frontman
of pioneering British punks The Clash,
died Dec. 22, 2002 at his home, of
heart failure. He was famous for his
loathing of cheap sentiment, so I say
this as a cold hard matter of fact rather
than as the kinda of groveling grave-
side praise he would have hated;
Strummer's influence as singer, song-
writer, lyricist and artist/activist are
immeasurable and epitomize the upper
most peaks of what popular music is
capable. He was the George Orwell of
rock, a delicate mix of unforgiving
skepticism for both
sides and honestv
empathy for the
The son o f a '
British diplomat,
Strummer was born
in Turkey in 1952
and received a mid-
dle class education
.at London boarding
schools where he
first discovered
rock and reggae. He White man in Hai
got his stage name
strumming out Chuck Berry tunes
on a ukulele in Tube stations for
pocket change.
Strummer fronted the 101 'ers, a
proto-punk pub rock outfit, who squat-
ted in condemned London buildings
before forming The Clash with Mick
Jones (guitar) and Paul Simonon (bass)
and a revolving door of drummers,
before settling on Terry Chimes and
then Topper Headon.
For a few all too brief years in the
late '70s and early '80s, The Clash
lived up to their own self-billed title as
"the only band that matters." Strum-
mer and his band didn't invent punk
rock, but more than any other group
they defined it, refining and expand-
ing the music and infusing punk with
message of intelligent. After The
Clash, it wasn't enough to be just a
snotty thug in a leather jacket any-
more, detached from the rest of the
world, devoid of compassion. You had
to create something worth living for.
You had to stand for something. You
had to think.
While the Sex Pistols preached "No
future," Strummer and Jones' songs
renounced directionless nihilism and
reestablished rock and roll as an authen-
tic, compelling form of protest.


Unchecked commercialism, imperialism,
fascism and racism were easy enough tar-
gets in Thatcherist Britain, but Strummer
raged against them with a volatile fury
that seemed to overflow from every
chord he slashed out, each and every
word he spat to the mic. At a time when
the Left was criticized for losing its
nerve, The Clash carried forth a sense of
unrestrained righteousness they'd
learned from the reggae and dub of
Jamaican Rastas.
While Strummer sang out in opposi-
tion to these social ills, he never offered a
concrete utopian blueprint or trite quick
fixes to the evils he rallied against. The
Clash weren't dogmatic or arrogant
enough to assume they could lead a gen-
eration by the hand. "We were trying to
group in a socialist way," Strummer once
said, "towards some future where the
world might be less of
a miserable place."
Rock critic Lester
Bangs once wrote for
England's New Music
Express that he never
dreamed it was possi-
ble for a rock band to
be as good to its fans
as The Clash was to
it's fans. It wasn't just
an abstraction of
Courtesy of Epic Records unspoken respect or
mersmith Palais. an extra encore some
nights, it was letting
hordes of kids sleep in their hotel rooms
and going to war with their record compa-
ny to make sure their triple album Sandin-
ista! sold at below normal prices.
They were major-label punks who spit
on "turning rebellion into money" on
their first record, a contradiction they
were the first to admit but so was white
English boys playing a fusion of punk,
rockabilly, R&B, funk, reggae and early
hip hop in the first place. Like every great
band, The Clash's contractions made it
great. It thrived because of them.
Strummer lives on not just because of
the thousands of revolutionary blazes he
set on stage at filthy clubs and concert
halls 20 years ago, but for the millions
of tiny infernos The Clash's music has
and will continue to set off on bedroom
stereos and headphones continually
inspiring people to think for themselves
and actually give a shit about the human
beings around them. At their best,
Strummer and The Clash embodied
what will always be the center of any
progressive movement; we can do better.
Rest in peace John.Mellor, but long
live Joe Strummer.
- Scott Seilla can be reached at

ror of the audience.v
Maneuvering his way into the role of Bill's loyal
up-and-coming associate is Amsterdam (DiCaprio),
now 16 years older and out of the reform school
where he spent his childhood. Even with revenge on
his mind, the Bill/Amsterdam relationship never
feels so black and white. Bill is obviously a racist,
no-good cheat, with his knife making its way from
his glass eye to the hand of a poker compatriot to the
back of a newly elected Irish sheriff, but he also
shows Amsterdam his heritage-proud heart, and

Everett, Firth chase the girls in 'Earnest'

By Katie Marie Gates
Daily Arts Writer

In 1895, Oscar Wilde created a basis
for the expression "it's all in the name"
with his complicated comedy "The
Importance of Being Earnest." The
story follows the lives of two society
bachelors using the name Earnest to
win the affections of the women they
love. For it appears that in the late 19th
century, marrying a man named
Earnest is every young girl's dream.
Recently, Oliver Parker ("An Ideal
Husband") decided to turn this delight-
ful comedy into a film. Though the
original stage script is better in many
respects, Parker's adaptation is quite
true to Wilde's work. Most lines are
identical to the play but locations have
been adjusted to enhance the story,
originally performed in only three acts.
In the opening, we meet Algernon,
(Rupert Everett, "My
Best Friend's Wed- a
ding"), a comedic bach-
elor, and a friend he TH
calls Earnest (Cohin IMPORTA
Firth, "Bridget Jones' BEING E
Diary"). In this confus-
ing opening the audi-
ence learns that Earnest, Picture/Sound
in fact, does not exist. It Movie: ***
is merely a, name
employed by Firth's Features: **
character when he is in Miran
the city. In the country
he is called Jack and
gives the name Earnest to his ficti-
tious "brother." Algy deems this fab-
rication of a person in order to get
away easily "Bunburying" for he
himself has an "ill friend" name Bun-
bury he "visits" in order to avoid
time with his aunt. Due to this sce-
nario, the opening is quite confusing
to an audience member unfamiliar

romantic as the characters realize the
immense importance of being Earnest.
The film ends, as it began, confus-
ingly. A flashback by Lady Bracknell
in Parker's conclusion (unlike
Wilde's) leaves the audience per-
plexed as to the truth of Jack's origin.
Judi. Dench, however, delivers the
most notable performance in the film,
with a cruel pose and well-defined
character. She is indeed the best cast
while Everett, Firth and Wither-
spoon's performances are also well
done. Anna Massey ("Possession")
appears as Miss Prism, Cecily's tutor,
in a poor, forced performance that
detracts from the scenes.
While the music is ill fitted and
overbearing, the costume and set
design are superb and picturesque.
The DVD also provides great added
features including a "The Making
Of..." with comments by the actors as
well as optional audio director com-
mentary. The most interesting feature
is the behind-the-scenes footage shot
from various angles and played with-
out distracting voiceovers, giving
those truly interested in the making of
a Hollywood film an accurate portray-
al. "The Importance of Being
Earnest" on DVD is a delight to
watch, but not a necessity.


Colin Firth in a British movie? Shut up!
with the story. Wilde's version is
much easier to understand.
The main reason for
Jack's visit to the city is
to propose to his beloved
[E Gwendolyn (Frances
NCE OF O'Connor, "Artificial
ARNEST Intelligence"). She
,D accepts, revealing her
childhood dream to
marry a man by the
name of Earnest, but her
mother is not as excited.
Lady Bracknell (Judi
max Dench, "Die Another
Day"), is a blunt woman
who adds laughs with
her cold personality and refined man-
nerisms. In her interrogation of Jack,

one of her daughter's many suitors, he
reveals his peculiar and mysterious ori-
gin, of which she does not approve.
Meanwhile, Algy is determined to
see the country life of his dear friend
and meet Jack's ward, the young,
beautiful and hopelessly romantic
Cecily, (Reese Witherspoon, "Legally
Blonde"). He comes to the country
acting as Jack's brother, Earnest, and
soon falls in love with Cecily. The
consequent events are humorous and


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